Breastfeeding Isn’t About Sex

A baby sucks on your breast. Is that a sexual experience? No. Might there be a sexual response that occurs from time to time in the mother while her child is nursing? Yes. So let’s look at this issue a little more closely. First of all, the idea that breastfeeding might cause mild sexual arousal is not something to be swept under the rug. It’s a natural biological response. We do not need to be afraid to talk about it. As a matter of fact, I think a graduate student at the University of Minnesota might be writing her dissertation on this very topic as we speak.

The author of another blog felt anxious that breastfeeding might produce sexual feelings. I’m sure that any sexual feelings a mother might have will differ from child to child, from mother to mother, from breast to breast, and from year to year, depending on the age of the child.

I can tell you from my experience that the first days of breastfeeding can be very difficult and it’s a job, not something that’s fun. (Remember, I’m speaking from my experience and my experience alone.) This is especially true if you’ve just undergone major surgery to have the baby removed from your body and especially true if for some reason the latch is painful. And forget about modesty. By the time I had that baby I didn’t care who saw my breasts. I can’t even recall how many nurses, friends and lactation consultants put their hands on my breasts while the baby was sucking away. They were helping the baby to latch and then examining her latch. I was just trying not to scream.

As she got older and her mouth got bigger, the pain subsided. This probably took about six months. Before that any time my milk would let down I would have searing pain that ran around the front of my body and into my back. Pumping is no fun either. You literally feel like a cow hooked up to a machine. My sister walked in on me one morning while I was pumping and just stared. She said, “It’s like looking at a train wreck. It’s so horrible, but somehow you can’t manage to look away.” It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t feel pretty.

Any sexual arousal experienced during breastfeeding is a biological response. I’m assuming people experience it otherwise why would a graduate student be studying the topic. As for the idea that a nursing toddler might somehow experience some inappropriate sexual experience while nursing, that is ludicrous. The toddler associates nursing with two things: food and comfort. Most nursing toddlers won’t even remember nursing as a young child and if they do it will be something along the lines of “Mama Milk” or “Num-Num” and that will be that. Even as a non-breastfed baby ages she will be wanting to lay on mama’s chest and feel the warmth of her breath, the softness of her breasts and the relaxing sound of the heartbeart. These are close to the experience of being an infant or being inutero. My three year old still goes to sleep most easily while I am carrying her in a sling. Luckily she is quite petite. She feels safe and warm and close to the source of milk. She can sense it and can feel my warmth. She’s not nursing and there is nothing sexual about the experience.

The sexualization of breastfeeding for me is not the act of nursing that occurs between mother and child. The sexualization of breastfeeding is what comes from the media and the public, as it did in this last Time Magazine issue and as it does when a woman is breastfeeding in public and there are men around. Because breasts are so sexualized in our culture, as compared to other cultures, breastfeeding in public is put in the same category of nudity. In some culture more remote cultures women walk around without shirts on. No one is gawking, no one is repulsed. No one is being asked to leave the village to nurse. It is a cultural norm. In the current U.S. society, we need to make the shift from breasts as objects of lust to breasts as objects of nutrition and bonding. And men, this isn’t a job solely for women, it’s a job for you as well.

Related Sites:

http://www.brynjaphotography.com/?p=4377
A photographer captures of the beauty of breastfeeding women and babies.

http://www.007b.com/public-breastfeeding-world.php
Breastfeeding around the world.

10 comments

  1. I remember reading an article (many years ago, don’t know where) that talked about the social barriers to extended breastfeeding and the thing I remember from it was a story of a mother who had CPS called on her because she admitted (in a LLL meeting, no less) that sometimes she had sexual feelings when nursing her child. The idea that breastfeeding is somehow wrong has been with us for quite a while. I’ve had conversations with well-educated older women in which they’ve told me (I wasn’t a mother yet, so it was not personal) that they thought that extended breastfeeding must be harmful to the children and done only to gratify the mother. You did well to talk openly about such a fraught subject.
    And I remember the painful experiences of nursing in the very beginning. I’m amazed and impressed that you stuck with it through all that.

  2. very well written article. I was at the ob/gyn office with my sister recently and I heard a couple of women speaking softly about breastfeeding and arousal to the point of orgasm. One lady was in tears as she spoke about this. The other lady patted her hand and told her it was OK and that it was normal and natural and it wasn’t a sexual response. It got me thinking there is a mouth on your breast your sense and nerves can’t distinguish between the mouth so if your life partner is having some sexual play using your breast you get a response if your baby is latching on you get a response. So my question was is this even up for debate? It’s a stimulation response to the sucking.

  3. very well written article. I was at the ob/gyn office with my sister recently and I heard a couple of women speaking softly about breastfeeding and arousal to the point of orgasm. One lady was in tears as she spoke about this. The other lady patted her hand and told her it was OK and that it was normal and natural and it wasn\’t a sexual response. It got me thinking there is a mouth on your breast your sense and nerves can\’t distinguish between the mouth so if your life partner is having some sexual play using your breast you get a response if your baby is latching on you get a response. So my question was is this even up for debate? It’s a stimulation response to the sucking.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I am so pleased that you are willing to speak so candidly about an issue that most people would not to talk about. It’s amazing that people think that a woman would extend breastfeeding because of her “pleasure” from it rather than for her child’s emotional well-being. You are right, it’s a natural physiological response…the problem is that people confuse adult intimacy and sexual pleasure with a normal biological response that is related to a mother-child experience. I think this comes from a place of fear; a place of misunderstanding and confusion about the unknown. For many people, the discussion of sex is frightening. For many men, the idea of looking at a breast is frightening because the only association he has had with that object is one of sexual pleasure, not a natural process of nurturance and child-reading. Part of this is because we have kept it under wraps and hidden for so long. It’s time to bring the breast out so to speak! It’s time to normalize the breast as part of mothering and child rearing.

    2. This is a good question and merits a specific answer. This may sound obvious once I say it, but I definitely had the same anxiety before my child came along. The baby’s mouth is really, really small compared to your partner’s. Also, in most cases at least, your partner’s sucking is mediated by your sexual response to the same because his purpose is to pleasure you as well as himself. The baby will not respond to you in the same way. They want their food and/or the pleasure of sucking on something and will continue to do it in the same fashion whether you are content with it or whether you are experiencing horrible, searing pain. If you experience the latter response, consult a lactation consultant or La Leche League, stat by the way. It seems like it should be the same as doing those things with a man, but once you have the experience, you will see that it is more or less nothing like what you are used to doing with your breasts :)

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